The late Rene Dubos was a radical optimist. The Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental philosopher believed that with our capacity for thought, humans could understand the consequences of our actions and change our behaviour accordingly. Dubos was also a great sloganeer, summing it all up in just four words: “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

Thirty years later we are beginning to have the experience and expertise to come up with creative solutions that don’t just solve problems — they actually advance our society.

It isn’t always easy acting locally. But you don’t have to change the world.

For some people, acting locally means picking up garbage, recycling, taking the bus or walking to the corner store. We eat green, which means organic, and find ways to re-use things. We’ve learned.

Now, how about buying ethically? We’ll look to Britain this time. Britain’s most successful supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, delivers goods on a policy known as ethical investment. Products at Sainsbury’s have no connection to what they deem unethical industries, even if their profits could be substantial. These companies include tobacco companies, alcohol companies, unethical farming companies, and so on.

Sainsbury’s contends that for every tree cut down to provide timber for sale, at least four samplings are planted or up to 20 samplings and the forest is tended for at least 10 years. More than half the new stores built since 1984 have occupied formerly derelict sites, therefore improving urban environment. All Sainsbury’s own-brand aerosols are CFC-free and all new refrigeration equipment in the stores will similarly be CFC-free. Sainsbury’s stock organically grown fruit and vegetables, and none of Sainsbury’s own-brand cosmetics are tested on animals.

Some say that buying ethically is expensive but not Dorothy Collins. Collins is co-authoring a study on the rise of ethical investment. She’s attempting to demonstrate that even when people are facing economic hardships, ethical investment in food products is still an option.

“Bad times play a role in consumer choices,” she said. “People think it is more expensive to buy enviro-friendly products than it is to buy the traditional products but this isn’t always the case.”

Collins said that ethical food is cheaper than the traditional muck we eat today.

“If economic times are good, or as in ‘times of plenty’ it is more than likely these products will attract customers,” she said. “But in times of relative hardships, traditional products are more economically appetizing to the consumer.”

Collins hopes her paper can convince the consumer otherwise.

Although that kind of win-win is gratifying, more needs to be done than just responding to how we eat. It is necessary to find ways to motivate other people on new ways of living on Earth. And in 2007, one such system began to coalesce. But it’s the efforts of the thousands of unsung global thinkers that are going to make our planet worth living on for centuries to come. In the face of relentlessly bad news from what seems like every corner of the planet, uncountable local actions justify my optimism.


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